ANURADHA SHARMA LAKHOTIA
Siliguri, Dec. 26: Not just butterflies and bees, flowers attract tourists too.
Visitors have started swarming to Sikkim and the Darjeeling hills lured by the orchids and rhododendrons.
Barely has the winter boom begun to peak with the onset of Yuletide and New Year’s Eve celebrations that the local tourism industry is abuzz with queries from international tourists wanting to holiday here “all for the love of flowers” in the coming summer months.
“A new breed of special-interest tourists has evolved over the years,” said Amit Periwal, the director of Clubside Tours and Travels, one of the oldest tour operators in north Bengal.
Though these niche tourists try not to miss the sunrise at Tiger Hill, it is flowers that are the main draw. The orchids of Kalimpong and Sikkim, the rhododendrons of North and West Sikkim and the pink primulas that carpet the Lachung valley in North Sikkim in April and May are major draws for tourists from all over the globe.
“I have handled quite a good number of visitors from New Zealand and Switzerland in the recent past,” said Samrat Sanyal, director of Bon Voyage. For Periwal, tourists from Japan and Germany top the list of international list. (There are very few domestic travellers in this category).
“In Kalimpong, which is famous for its exotic orchids, many prefer to stay in the nurseries,” Sanyal said. The visitors also make extensive trips to the villages where flowers are cultivated on a commercial scale.
“It is like any other hobby-based tourism, something like butterfly and bird watching,” said Ganesh Mani Pradhan of Orchid Retreat in Kalimpong.
The interest, however, is not limited to flowers alone, said Pradhan. “They are also keen about the ferns and palms here,” he said.
For international visitors, the trip to the Himalayas here is like “going back to the roots”.
“A variety of plants grown in European countries like Britain, Scotland and The Netherlands actually originated in this region long ago. This is why these people take a keen interest in literally tracing the roots of flowers and plants that they see in the small corners of their homeland,” Pradhan explained.
Sanyal said a fair chunk of “flower tourists” are also those who come with academic interests, being either “botanists or naturalists”.